These entries chronicle a choreographic research process that began in 2011 and eventually led the creation and performance of Midway Avenue in 2014. The process includes visits to London to interact with colleagues Wendy Houston, Matteo Fargion and Rahel VonMoos as well as rehearsal in Philadelphia with a cast of dancers. The early research project and eventual production were funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Notes from Wendy's April Visit

(warning this one is long…)

What is a mentorship?  It can take so many forms.  Wendy and I have been trying to take cues from one another and learn how the other is most comfortable working.  What are the expectations of this mentorship and how can we continue to make sure we stay on track. It was essentially a blind date mentorship so there was no telling how it would all shake out.  There have been many discussions along the way about how to define and organize our working relationship.  There have been hurt feelings and un-met expectations.  There have been break-throughs and new ways of seeing things.  Navigating our relationship has not been simple but the project has been overall rewarding and illuminating thus far.

Wendy expressed a desire for me to do the bulk of the initiations for this April visit.  She wanted my desires, questions and inspirations to guide our work sessions.  She wanted me to map out and lead our work for the week. 

Solo process: 
I opened our week discussing the main questions and observations about the process of working alone as well as the main ideas (narrative content and formal concerns) I am wrestling with and investigating in my projects.  

Example of a talking point:
-Wearing all the hats can be overwhelming:
Initiating tasks/assignments for self; fulfilling tasks and assignments as performer; evaluating one’s own performance; editing and organizing the performance of the tasks.  It’s difficult to perform all of these roles fully. 
Creating tasks for self:  how can I create tasks that allow for exploration?  There is a tendency to predict the outcome, designing tasks that will lead me to a known or expected result.  In this instance being both the guide and the guided can be thwarting.  When I design tasks for others in a group work those dancers inevitably find a new interpretation, opening my mind to new ways to address a topic.  When, as a performer, I embody the tasks of a choreographer/director I feel a freedom and bold-ness to chart new territory and bring back the excavated items. 
Fullfilling my own tasks lacks the sparks of collaboration.  Fullfilling my own tasks can sometimes limit discovery. 

Example of a content talking point:
-I described to Wendy the ways I’m using a memory map of my childhood home as a structure for a performance.  In it lies a series of images some real and some imagined, some found and some borrowed. 
-I described the ways I’m using “mother” as a source material, my mother in particular and the view of the world that I attach to my mother.  The previous blog is an excerpt from “why my Mother and why now?” its a document I wrote in anticipation of Wendy’s visit.  I only posted excerpts as the full document got quite personal.  I felt I should try to figure out why I was drawn to these personal memories so that I could better understand how and why and if it can be translated into an art project.    
-We decided to start making a sketch of a solo with the content and material I’d generated thus far.  This would allow us to address process more concretely, putting theory into practice and having examples to point at and push through.

-Some working points that stick out to me:

-       really “do” something so that semi-acting doesn’t emerge as a default (i.e. when carrying as many items as possible,  Really carry more that you can handle.)  Pushing things to the extreme.
-       Find a cold distance from personal source material so that you can look at it and shape it with formal eye.  We tossed around possible structures for abstracting and shaping the fact material.  
-       Play Good Cop/Bad Cop as much as possible.  When performing try not to evaluate.  Be fully present and accepting of all choices.  Be the good cop.  Directly following an improvisation switch to bad cop.  Sit on the sidelines and look at the stage, envision what just happened.  Recall as much as you can.  And then be your own harsh critic. 

Group process:

I introduced Wendy to the group process I’ve been engaged in.  Many of the themes from my solo process have filtered into this group project resulting in very different types of explorations. 

She watched me warm up the dancers and then they ran through all of the material we’d been working on.  Wendy chatted with us a bit and then led the group through a few improvisational exercises geared toward speaking and pushing improvisations further than you think you can or should. 

Wendy introduced herself to the group:  She contextualized her performance experience for the group using two divergent examples:  DV8 where the work is choreographed down to the minute detail and -as she put it- you can really feel the hand of the author. 
Vs.  Forced Entertainment where the structures are so intentionally open that you can feel the performers making choices and driving the work; The work is in the hands of the performers and the director is an instigator and an editor. 

Wendy commented that dance can often appear to be a strange game of charades causing the audience to wonder “what’s it all about”? Why not just let the audience know, she suggests.  *

Some things Wendy and I talked about after the group session:

Relationship to performers:
-We discussed ways of making sure the cast feels agency to solve problems and bite into the making of the work so that aren’t waiting to be told what to do and how to be.  The purpose of working with smart dance-artists is to give them space to be full.  She encouraged me to be the editor, not the sculptor.  We talked about ways to keep the feel of an ensemble (with me being part of that ensemble) even though I’m not dancing in the work.  I’m so used to creating this through my dual role as performer/creator. 

-We discussed methods of being clear and decisive with tasks and directives without prescribing the whole shape of things, without defining where the thing should end up.  i.e focus on starting points not ending points to allow the performers ownership over the material and permission to solve problems. 

-Encouraging performers to be unhelpful in order to be helpful.  In improvisations there can be a tendency to say “yes” and to readily join other performers in their actions or mindset.  But providing obstacles for another performer or contrast is often the more helpful choice overall.  Sometimes, on stage, the most helpful thing to do is to be unhelpful.  To create conflict and resistance in order to help the scene… to give the other performer something to push against.

-Its great when performers are not privy to one another’s tasks.  This provides an in-born conflict and necessitates discovery and listening.  

How does one harness the spontaneity and spark of a chaotic improvisation? 
This is something I’ve been struggling with all my life in various ways.  Sliding back and forth on the continuum of choreographed and open structures, landing on various points for each project.  It was nice to hear some of Wendy’s thoughts and strategies for this age-old question.  For instance she introduced an improvisational structure in which assignments were listed on pieces of paper, allowing dancers to grab information when needed and the director to feed in the tasks that relate to the goals of the project.  This seems like an exciting tool, and an interesting twist on the types of generative improvisations I am used to.

It is really great for me, through Wendy’s suggestion, to try on a different way of guiding the action - putting my energy toward extreme states and conflicting events – since my tendency is to direct casual behaviour, subtle interactions and primarily idiosyncratic or dreamy movement states.  I’m excited to push my work into new territory and its great to gather the directing tools to send the dancers in that direction. 

It is also important for me to acknowledge (if only for myself) where my own aesthetic intentionally diverges from Wendy’s and for me to note that these new tools and ideas are there to serve my own vision as needed.   It’s not important that I make work that Wendy would make or would even like.  It’s important that I stay open to her thoughts and her prodding while continually filtering the information through my own artistic voice.

*interesting to hear her make a comment about the “charades of dance” in light of the conversations we’ve been having in the solo process, where she’s been encouraging me to abstract, obscure and spin away from the root content.  I feel I understand what she means though.  There is a way that we can let the audience in on the questions we are asking, providing a light or lens with which to follow the work. 

But on the other end of the spectrum is work that is too clear and overstated, something I want to avoid. 
I am much more interested in work that manages to place questions on stage than work that delivers a statement or concocts the answers to life’s mysteries.  I’m drawn to the mysteries themselves.  This is why theater sometimes irritates me: or least those plays that come with a mission statement that is underlined repeatedly.

But placing questions onstage is difficult to do well.   Attempting it can run the risk of an unfocused project that meanders and confuses. 

I am seeking to find this balance. 

No comments:

Post a Comment